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Surplus budget fails as deficit spills over to second half of NDP 11

The 2020/21 national budget projections forecast another deficit for Botswana; this emerged at a Budget Pitso and launch of the Budget strategy paper by the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development in Gabcorone this week.

Deliberating on the strategy paper, experts from the Ministry said the 2020/21 budget points to a deficit, contrary to one of the NDP 11 fiscal objective of maintaining modest surpluses in the second half of the Plan period. When National Development Plan 11 was launched in 2017 it was revealed that the first three financial years would run at a contained budget deficit financed from both external and domestic capital market. This was reiterated by Minister of Finance Kenneth Matambo when delivering the 2019/20 Budget Speech in February his year. He said government would be eying a slight surplus going into 2020.

However discussions from the Budget Pitso as well as figures contained in the strategy paper reveal something completely different. Budget defict runs will spill over into the second half of NDP 11.The current 2019/2020 budget marks the end of the first half of the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) 11.

Since the beginning of the implementation of NDP 11 in 2017/2018, a cumulative budget deficit of P16.11 billion has been recorded. This according to authorities from the national treasury was largely due to a decline in projected mineral revenues against the rising recurrent commitments.

2020/21 EXPENDITURE WILL SUFFOCATE REVENUE STREAMS

In the upcoming financial year projected Total Revenues and Grants for 2020/2021 amounts to P59.1 billion, representing an increase of 1.5 percent, compared to P58.2 billion estimated in 2019/2020. The projected slow growth in total revenues is largely driven by the Mineral revenues, which is expected to account for 29.6 percent to the total revenue, followed by Customs and Excise revenues at 26 percent.

Ministry of Finance says compared to the NDP 11 projected figure of P62.1 billion, the forecast total revenue for 2020/2021 is well below the NDP 11 figure by 4.8 percent, reflecting to a large extent the downward revision in mineral revenues as a result of the anticipated investments at Debswana Cut 3 and Cut 9 projects which are aimed at extending the productive capacity of the two major Debswana mines. This follows the decision by Debswana Shareholders to finance the investments through dividends.

On the expenditure fronts total expenditure and net lending in 2020/2021 is projected at P66.1 billion, of which P54.1 billion is allocated for recurrent expenditure, while P12.0 billion is earmarked for development expenditure. The projected amount for the development expenditure is also below the projected NDP 11 figure of P16.9 billion by 29 percent. The downward revision in the development budget is a result of the growth in recurrent budget, following a 16.5 percent upward revision in order to cater for the projected increase in wages and salaries

OVER P6.9 BILLION DEFICIT PROJECTED

The projected figures depict a fiscal balance stand of P6.94 billion, which is 3.1 percent of GDP. Cumulatively, the deficit points to P10.86 billion during the second half of the Plan period, which is an addition to the P16.11 billion recorded in the first half of the Plan period.
The anticipated budget deficit is expected to be financed through a combination of borrowing mainly domestic and drawing down on Government cash balances held at Bank of Botswana. The ministry says this however compromises fiscal sustainability in the long term, as well as the ability to meet short term obligations such as regular payment for imports of goods and services.

PREVAILING POTENTIAL HEADWINDS

Ministry of Finance and Developmental Planning has cautioned the nation of serious trouble that lies ahead should current macroeconomic and fiscal headwinds persist. The Macroeconomic space will continue receiving headblows from the China –US trade tension putting pressure on rough diamond sales global economic outlook. It is underscored in the Budget Strategy paper that weak diamond sales pose downside risks to mineral revenues, which remain low following the decision by Debswana to finance the Cut 3 and Cut 9 projects from the dividends.

Furthermore, risks to the revenue outlook take into account the continued weak market for rough diamonds which has affected sales through De Beers Global Sightholder Sales. The negative fiscal outlook is exacerbated by increased recurrent pressures arising from the need to cater for the recent salary adjustments as well as other expenditure pressures arising from investment in critical infrastructure such as those for water and electricity. This is expected to raise the recurrent budget in the years ahead, while at the same time, crowding out development spending necessary for growth.

Finance experts say the expected decline in revenues amidst rising expenditure pressures give rise to budget deficits, which in turn, need to be financed by either borrowing or drawing down on Government cash reserves; the latter which has experienced significant deterioration over the past decade. “This has implications on the country’s ability to sustain and cushion the economy against any future external shocks, debt levels, as well as, to meet its import obligations and credit worthiness”

SUBDUED DIAMOND MARKET: HIGH RISK THREAT

Rough diamonds sales fell by well over 50 percent during the sixth De Beers Global Sightholder sales cycle, following a 16 percent drop in the second quarter of 2019. The decline in diamond sales has already started to weigh down on output, as Debswana adjusted mining production downwards during the second quarter of the year in line with the weaker demand for rough diamonds.

Production decreased by nine (9) per cent to 5.7 million carats during the second quarter of the year. This was also exacerbated by a decrease in production by 23 percent at Orapa to 2.5 million carats, following a planned plant shut down.  “Should the situation persists, it may pose further risks to the domestic revenue outlook, as it would affect the growth in mining value added and a spill over to other sectors that depend on mining activities such as manufacturing and finance business services, which include diamond cutting and polishing as well as sorting and valuation” writes Ministry of Finance on the Strategy paper.

DIVERSIFICATION OF NATIONAL REVENUE PROFILE KEY

The 2020/21 Budget Strategy paper recommends  that  appropriate measures such as diversifying the current revenue profile be put in place with a view to cushioning against any future pressures on volatile mineral and customs & excise revenue streams.
 “This calls for the need to adhere to Government’s fiscal rule of restricting further growth in the recurrent expenditure in order to create room for the subdued development budget, in particular, by allowing for spending on high return projects, which can create employment opportunities”

On the emphasis the paper underscores that there is need to restore the fiscal position of the country, as part of the maintenance of macroeconomic stability. Ministry of Finance says Successive budget deficits experienced since the commencement of NDP 11 have placed the country on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory, which needs to be seriously addressed in the second half of NDP 11. “Going forward, measures will need to be taken to restore fiscal sustainability, as part of the suite of strategies to maintain macroeconomic stability necessary for growth and employment creation.

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Africa continues to be a violent continent for journalists

12th May 2021
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COVID-19 has been identified as a burning factor fuelling the use of force to prevent journalists from working in Africa. This was said by Reporters without Borders in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, indicating that although there was less deterioration in Africa’s “Abuses” score, it continues to be the most violent continent for journalists.

The 2021 Index shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation. The data reflects a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage, further showing that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Africa, Asia and Europe.

After a wave of liberalisation in the 1990s in Senegal, Eritrea and Djibouti, press freedom violations are now only too common. They include arbitrary censorship, especially on the internet (by means of ad hoc internet cuts in some countries), arrests of journalists on the ground of combatting cybercrime, fake news or terrorism, and acts of violence against media personnel that usually go completely unpublished.

Reporters without Borders say respect for press freedom is still largely dependent on the political and financial influence that undermines their independence. For the most part, it says, State-owned media still tend to be governmental mouthpieces or propaganda tools and have a long way to go before they become independent public service media reflecting a wide range of opinion.

On the pretext of combatting disinformation and hate speech, many countries in Africa have adopted new laws in recent years with vague and draconian provisions that can easily be used to gag journalists.

It has been said that an increase in online attacks is another disturbing phenomenon making Africa a bad space for journalists in this era. These attacks are often by trolls close or directly linked to the government that are designed to discredit or intimidate journalists.

The report by Reporters without Borders show that African journalists were hit hard by the Coronavirus in 2020, suffering three times as many attacks and arrests from 15 March to 15 May as during the same period the year before.

Ranked number 38 globally, Botswana’s press freedom violations are said to have declined since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over. Masisi, according to Reporters without Borders, has given at least frequent press conferences, unlike Ian Khama, who gave none.

Nonetheless, there is still no law on access to information, which journalists have long been demanding. The few privately-owned newspapers depend on advertising that they may or may not receive from the State.

Three years after taking office, Masisi has yet to keep his promise to revise draconian laws such as the 2008 Media Practitioners Act, which restricts their freedom to inform, journalists say, and the law on access to information.

In 2020, Botswana saw journalists being arrested and detained at holding cells by State security spies while on duty. The said journalists were interrogated, and their gadgets confiscated. Prior to that, one female journalist was ambushed by security officers at her home.

Even though Namibia has been doing well in protecting and giving journalists freedom since 2019, in 2020 several reporters were briefly arrested and some given warnings after putting a question to the President, and many media outlets were barred from government press conferences about the Coronavirus crisis.

It was against this background that a Namibian journalists’ union was formed in 2021, the first since the country became independent. Namibia is ranked number 23 in this year’s Press Freedom Index, becoming one of the countries in Africa doing well in respecting journalists.

In Ghana, a group of investigative journalists had to spend part of 2018 in hiding after producing a documentary about corruption in Ghanaian soccer. A ruling party parliamentarian who had been named in the documentary publicly threatened one of the journalists without ever being arrested or questioned.

According to Reporters without Borders, the journalist was shot dead in the street a few months later. Investigative reporters are often threatened even though journalists are rarely arrested. It was reported that, most cases of police aggression against journalists go unpublished but timid attempts have been made to combat this impunity.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution protects press freedom, but the State security agency spies on some journalists and taps their phones. Others are harassed and subjected to intimidation campaigns if they try to cover certain subjects involving the ruling African National Congress (ANC), government finances, the redistribution of land to the black population or corruption.

The opposition party in South Africa, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema was given a high court warning in 2019 because of its invective and hate speech against journalists. In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis did not spare journalism in South Africa.

Rubber bullets were fired at a reporter covering compliance with lockdown measures and a community newspaper editor even had to flee abroad after being threatened by the police for covering a lockdown-related story, RWB said.

The Djibouti 1992 Freedom of Communication Law is itself is an obstacle to free speech and media pluralism. It provides for jail terms for media offences and imposes age and nationality restrictions on those who can create a media outlet. In terms of media freedom, Djibouti is ranked 176th, 5th position from the lowest bottom.

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BFTU slaps Masisi with fierce demands

12th May 2021
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Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) last week, during Labour Day, put forward sturdy demands to President Mokgweetsi Masisi and calling for government to act upon them promptly.

Following these celebrations over the weekend, BFTU presented demands for decent work and sustainable development to government.

In fact, the Union is advocating for a new social contract in which employee’s welfare, rights and social protection as well as the need for inclusion occupy centre space.

“On behalf of the labour movement in general, factors in our own midst which still inhibit taking everyone along, include the absence in our country, of a mandatory and genuinely national tripartite framework where both employer organizations and trade unions along with government can ventilate their concerns and any apparent demands for a better life for their members and improved working environment.”

Against this background, BFTU submitted that workers cannot be said to be represented when their view is not considered mandatory. Thus, BFTU argues, existing structures such as the Labour Advisory Board, NEMIC and HLCC are merely volitional in effect.

Consequent to the practice of acting alone many employers, probably emulating government are bent on frustrating transparency and good faith engagement in the workplace, BFTU said. In most cases employees still find it hard to form and belong to trade unions without fear of reprisal by employers nor are employers keen to grant the institutionalization of Work or Industrial Councils in order to freely share and exchange information for amicable resolution of disputes.

“It must be mandatory for employers to disclose to employee representatives all the relevant information including financial, which would assist employees in their bargaining with the employers. In spite of this we are aware of many unscrupulous employers who withhold such critical information under different pretexts.”

BFTU further indicated that the Department of Labour and Social Security remains seriously under resourced to dispose labour disputes lodged with them, and to ensure regular labour inspections and compliance with relevant labour laws.

Furthermore, the absence of an integrated national social security policy with many and scattered policy administrators goes to show how far Botswana is in meeting those deserving of the social protection assistance despite trade union’s shared pledge not to leave anyone behind, BFTU said at the commemoration of May Day.

The Union, urged government to consider introducing the National Occupation Pension Fund so as to assist those employees who find themselves in the lurch because of automation or other unforeseen factors resulting in job loss.

“We further demand a reviewing of laws and provisions relating to insolvency and or liquidation to protect employees. It is the Federations considered view that social dialogue in the present dispensation is merely cosmetic and incapable of fully aiding the implementation of the SDGs and ensuring we leave no one behind.”

“We therefore propose that a National Tripartite Council Policy Forum be set up which will involve government, employer organizations and trade unions to duly reflect on the social and economic challenges affecting the nation and accordingly make recommendations.”

BFTU expressed satisfaction in the reassurance by President Mokgweetsi Masisi that a Constitutional Review is forthcoming.

“Critical among the issues that come to mind speaking of the review is the autonomy of Parliament especially the amendment of section 90 and 91 which relate to the ability of Parliament managing its own affairs and the power to dissolve parliament which is currently vested in the person of the President.”

Ten years ago, Botswana rose to an awakening when 90 000 public sector employees took to the streets after negotiations with their employer, government, reached hard point and collapsed. The effect was a strike that was to impact on the industrial relations landscape in a manner that was unprecedented.

BFTU says the strike knocked some sense in those who underrated the power of workers’ unity and the effectiveness of industrial action as tools for bargaining with employers and the powers that be. Learning at a cost, BFTU acknowledges that consultation and workers’ education including on the processes of the strike are very critical.

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Is Ralotsia a DIS target?

12th May 2021
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Hell broke loose back in 2018 when Botswana Television (Btv) Broadcasting Officer, Gaolaolwe Ralotsia, son to former cabinet Minister, Patrick Ralotsia, started to make sound statements and reported the rampant corruption happening at the National Broadcaster spearheaded by a cabal of procurement officers.

Ralotsia’s actions have put him in trouble with the mob which is working in cohorts with intelligence agents in covert operations, according to information gathered by this publication.

Tragic or coincidence, fast forward 2018, Ralotsia’s workstation computer, a government Central Processing Unit (CPU) black in colour went missing in what is alleged to be the work of Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) covert operations.

The computer was reported at Gaborone West Police Station and WeekendPost is in possession of an abstract from the police record involving burglary and theft and or loss dated 09/10/2018. Up to date there has never been any arrest and the case is still under investigations at least according to the document.

This is despite the fact that Ralotsia who has now become DIS ‘prey’ has his life under illegal surveillance.

Early last year, the National Health Lab in Gaborone through a report which was sanctioned by the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) confirmed his worst fears that there were attempts to poison him.

Two samples being a supposedly PET coke bottled and a plastic bag containing apparently home baked scones were presented. The scope was to attempt to determine if there is a case for worry of malicious or criminal poisoning.

In view of these suspicions, samples were treated as potentially hazardous and handled with utmost care. A series of microbiological and chemical rudimentary tests was devised since there is no cheap and widely available method.

According to the report, due to the nature of the work, the work is being done in utmost confidentiality and this reduces the progress and hampers the sourcing of some needed materials without suspicion. Thus progress was and is extremely slow.

In conclusion the report in view of the results from the spectrophotometry and the refractometer reading, they are convinced to a large extent that the supplied specimens were deliberately contaminated with ethylene glycol or related compounds, also called glycol which is the main ingredient of a vehicle anti- freeze. It is fairly common and not scent and therefore makes sense as a poison tool in sweet foods or drink.

Glycol mode of poisoning is to induce oxalate crystals in the kidneys leading to irreversible renal failure and ultimately death.

WeekendPost is also in possession of a complaint letter which Ralotsia wrote to The Intelligence and Security Tribunal through the Register of the High Court of Botswana this week. The letter references complaint to grievances by an officer of the Directorate- Peter Magosi.

The letter is addressed to the Chairperson of the Tribunal as detailed in Section 32 (2) of the Intelligence and Security Service Act Chapter 23:02. This according to the author follows months of investigations owing to illegal surveillance, unauthorised access to computer systems and invasion of privacy.

“The DIS has used access previously granted to investigate myself to carry out an illegal systematic monitoring and tapping of my phone calls, communication and general surveillance for personal gain as directed by the Director General Peter Magosi since mid-2018 to date,” the letter said.

FROM PAGE 1

Ralotsia also wrote that the intelligence unit has on several occasions analysed troves of data to form an intimate picture of his life, relationships and movements. He reports that on three occasions, the DIS illegally submitted data gleamed from his personal communications to The Voice newspaper for publication.

“Graphics to that effect had already been prepared,” he stated.

According to Ralotsia, there has been attempts by the DIS to also incriminate him. He says on or around the 16th February 2020, the DIS with the help of some members of Botswana Police Services (BPS) attempted to lure him into a sexual trap and frame him for rape using a certain woman, very close to him who is also their agent.

This came a few months after they tried to plant drugs on him on his trip to Francistown in order to incriminate him.

A divorcé now, Ralotsia also submit that the DIS instigated a feud in his family that ended in his divorce.

“Throughout 2019, the DIS has shared with my ex-wife while still married incriminating sensitive personal data, some of it more than a decade old. A female agent named X (names withheld) was the link. The aftermath subsequently led to our divorce. The DIS continued to use my ex-wife to attempt to entrap me in some form of wrong doing. As such, I have not seen my children in over a year,” he said.

Ralotsia said on or around the end of March 2020, he became aware of successful attempts to clone his sim card by the then his ex-wife with the help of the DIS and an employee of Orange Botswana based in Jwaneng (names withheld).

The man constantly on the run said the DIS also recruited a human resource officer from the Department of Broadcasting Services to copy and deliver to them his file under her custody as an HR officer.

He reports that officers from the spy agency have on numerous occasions gained access to his place of residence, taken pictures, intimidated and at one point kidnapped and threatened the occupants.

“In one incident, four men wielding guns arrived in a white VW Amarok pickup truck. Their threats revolved around my feud with them and an open letter I had written to the President,” he said.

“The DIS mostly uses my mobile devices to keep track of my movements. On the 17th April 2021, I had left all my devices in the boot of a vehicle in Kanye. I had then driven back to Gaborone and stayed indoors. On Tuesday 20th April, just after 1530hrs, my companion was about to leave the house when Peter Magosi driving a silver Jeep registration B 660 AYP arrived at the gate. This was consistent with their modus operandi. She called me out and that is when Peter Magosi panicked and recklessly sped away. There is a picture of his vehicle to that effect.”

Ralotsia also reported Magosi for abuse of office and failure to carry out crime busting duties.

He said on 14th February 2020, he met with Peter Magosi at around 1100hrs. This was just a follow up meeting after numerous telephone communications.

The objective was to brief him about the disappearance of the CPU, the various attempts to cause harm or incriminate him by some of his agents and to report to him in person, the rampant corruption happening at the Mass Media Complex spear headed by one officer (names withheld).

He alleges that after the meeting Magosi used the information he got from him that he is onto them.

“I later discovered that the DIS is nothing but a cess pool of corruption, offering protection to the corrupt elite.”

According to Ralotsia, it is now common for cases involving the DIS not to be dealt with or unfairly dealt with because they have capabilities and willing partners being the BPS to make everything disappear.

“I am however under no illusion that the tribunal will do what is necessary to end this greed of thieving and rule bending by members of the DIS and their friends. I am however prepared to go public with the full details if necessary,” ends the letter.

WeekendPost is also in possession of copies of WhatsApp messages between a DIS agent only known as Jerry and a female known as Phatsimo who is a well-known informant.

The woman asked Jerry about her payment after doing a job for them to incriminate Ralotsia. In one of the messages Jerry is quoted saying, “Hey gorgeous, I will push for your payment. Am on leave but will link you up with someone at the office. Anyways, I still need more information on your guy, these days he seems to have covered his tracks very well, I can’t make a breakthrough on that issue you mentioned, we tried everything even with his computer we couldn’t find anything to prove that” (sic).

In her response Phatsimo wrote; “What more do you need, this has been dragging for too long and am not getting the money I was promised, but I had budgeted for that. Mme kana gone jaana it’s the perfect time to get to him, he just divorced, he is messed up and spends most of the time going to the farm, they are doing all they can to cover up for their motokwane thing. You guys are just too slow, he must be way too ahead of you, that one is too intelligent. But don’t worry I will use my charm to get to him, just tell me what to do and it will be done, hes got soft spot for me remember. I just want to get over and done with him, I want to see him go down. Oh, here are his other numbers that you can tap on ……” (sic).

In his response Jerry, “One of our guys at work was helping the wife to track his whereabouts and she was paying him so well, looked like the wife had everything under control. And one of your home girls is also helping us with baiting him, looks like Ralotsia is trying to try his luck on the lady, so she should also be able to help” (sic).

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